Local instrument maker offers quick ukulele intro

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Richard Ash assembles a dulcimer at Folkcraft Instruments in Woodburn, where he makes an assortment of stringed instruments. Ash will teach an introduction to ukulele class Aug. 5 at the Fort Wayne Community Center.

Richard Ash can’t transform a ukulele novice into an independent artist instantly. But give him 2.5 hours and he will have the student playing the basics.

“We learn a handful of chords, and strum those chords and hum along and we do a number of songs from ‘Clementine’ to ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,’ and two hours into the class they’re changing chords pretty easily,” Ash said.

The owner of Woodcraft Instruments usually teaches audiences from the Midwest and beyond at his Woodburn shop. Or he follows the folk music circuit across the South and beyond. But from 9:30 a.m.-noon Saturday, Aug. 5, he will share more than a quarter-century of ukulele know-how at the Fort Wayne Community Center, 233 W. Main St. Sign up at fortwayneparks.org. Aspiring uke players will pay $65 for the lesson and their own ukulele. You read that correctly. “They will take the ukulele with them,” he said.

The beginners’ model won’t have the same luster as those that fill the walls in Woodburn, but the instruments will suffice for the introduction and the short-term. “It’s a one-time thing for most of the people,” Ash said. “They’re doing this for entertainment and they can work on this from home.”

Ash has taught a ukulele class through the Fort Wayne Parks Department for about five years. “I’ve also done harmonica and tinwhistle. I’ve done a variety of programs with the Parks Department, and it’s very well organized,” he said.

Some of Ash’s students have gone on to join local dulcimer clubs or the Three Rivers Ukes performers. “It’s good to help local clubs,” he said.

Beginners do not have to know how to read music. “They just need to be able to sit up in a chair and hold an instrument in their hands and I’ll take it from there. I’ll show them how to read tablature,” he said. That system illustrates finger placement on fretted instruments.

Ash loves teaching, and he loves “hanging out with fine performers” on his travels. “Life is always a learning experience,” he said. “I’m oftentimes taking classes when I go to these festivals. I go to a festival in Florida every winter, and each time I teach I will sit in on classes and either pick up teaching techniques or pick new ideas and think, ‘Oh, I didn’t know how that works.’ I add it to my own repertoire and skill set.”

Ash moved to Indiana in 1988, after teaching at the college level for three years in Montana. He taught at Eastside High School in Butler for two years, and later at three parochial schools. In 1990, he opened a music store in Woodburn. He eventually bought Folkcraft Instruments and moved it from Winsted, Conn. Today, Folkcraft has three main product lines. Folkcraft Instruments builds mountain dulcimers, hammered dulcimers, psalteries and kanteles. Druid Moon builds ukuleles. FolkRoots creates dulcimers. Most recently, Ash has been busy building his own innovation, the LAP-JO — for Loud and Played Joyously. For a closer look at the instrument, search for LAP-JO on youtube.